Life is full of awkward events seemingly designed to annoy us. To Thomas Sullivan, these trials and tribulations are actually meant to entertain and inform us. In So Much Time, So Little Change you’ll encounter a person who finds humor and wisdom in:
- Searching for an old-school barber in a gentrifying neighborhood, but landing at a frantic corporate salon that smells like a meth lab.
- Running late for a flight, only to find himself on The Terrorist Watch List.
- Watching The Peoples Court with a stranger in the world’s gloomiest bar.
- Surviving condemnation from the hard-working folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Fixing up a house when he knows nothing about home improvement.
- And much more wonderful absurdity.
This is a book of funny essays about things that aren’t supposed to be funny.
Don’t Go With The Flowbie
When you move to a new town from out of state, the most important thing on your to-do list is finding the right hairstylist. You can drive around unnoticed for months with old license plates or pass the electric bill onto the prior tenant, but you can’t afford a bad haircut in a new neighborhood. Quite simply, with bad hair, people are going to remember you the way they remember the name of the kid who threw up on the school bus in third grade (but can’t remember their last roommate’s name).
I drop into my new neighborhood carting along a poofy ‘do that hangs over my ears and is approaching mullet status in the rear. The curly hair on top of my head is piling up like an over-serving of pasta from The Old Spaghetti Factory. Something needs to be done here, quickly. I could get away with this in my old neighborhood, where guys who washed their hair were considered ahead of the game, but not here. I’m not vain, but I am realistic.
I hunt through the gentrified landscape looking for a seventy-year-old guy with a barber pole and a battered sign who still cuts hair at 1950’s prices. Apparently, they’ve driven him out for failing to sell hair-care products. All I find are sleek, modern salons displaying pictures of men with politician hair. My chance of finding an old-school barber seems to be as likely as Chelsea Clinton naming her first daughter Monica.
I fight off the urge to get in the car and head toward the airport. I’ll just bite the bullet this time and keep looking.
I give up and head with trepidation to a brightly lit Great Clips. Opening the door, I’m hit by a chemical wave strong enough to suggest that they didn’t fully clean the meth lab before letting the stylists set up shop. I enter the stern, sparse lobby remembering my only other visit to this chain—it ended with me racing back to the car after enduring a vicious gossip session between stylists lambasting a co-worker who called in sick.
A smiling woman at the counter takes my name and directs me to an empty barber chair. I slink past two men quietly competing for the right to purchase the other’s haircut and slide into the chair. As I sink into the soft leather, the woman strolls up to my side and asks whether I prefer scissors or the buzzer. In this regard I’m neutral, concerned only with getting through this process without drawing blood. I’ll settle for whichever method is easier to manage given the unsettling techno music coursing from the speakers overhead. I defer to her choice, which only seems logical given that she’s wielding the knife, and settle back into the chair.
The woman grabs a pair of scissors from a jar of fluid that looks like mouthwash and starts snipping near my ears. I look into the mirror and relate my story about the Flowbie, a home-haircutting innovation universally scorned by hairstylists. I was heading home for Christmas and recognized my need for a haircut at the last minute, in the Minneapolis airport to be precise. The only barber in the airport had adopted the magic of the suck-and-cut method provided by the Flowbie, which he used on my head, producing a look akin to a motorcycle helmet.
The stylist laughs, referencing the Flowbie, and says, “Great idea, but impractical. You need to keep adjusting the thing to get the cut right.”
She agrees when I compare the late-night TV innovation to a lawn mower.
Having willfully sacrificed my pride, I mutter my true icebreaker, a question that might determine whether I’ll come back. The relationship between a customer and his stylist is infrequent, but it’s important. The end result could be the difference between acceptance and ridicule, as John McCain’s experience would suggest (given that haircut, he should have joined the Wig party).
“So,” I venture, “have you seen any really horrible hair lately?”
The stylist doesn’t miss a beat. She stops snipping and meets my eyes in the mirror with a laugh. Sliding into an incredulous expression she says, “I had this guy the other day with a part down the middle. He insisted on having it feathered.”
Caught in her reverie, the stylist ignores my amateur hypothesis that guys get butt-cuts to cut down on wind resistance. She stabs her scissors into the air and continues.
“So, every time I used the word ‘layered’ he got all prissy. He’d spin around at me and shout, ‘feathered!’”
Apologizing for my ignorance, I ask what “feathered” is.
“Well,” she says, returning the scissors to my head, “It’s like Farrah Fawcett.”
I ponder this for a moment, considering the possibilities. As the new kid in town I could probably handle some short-term ridicule from a feathering. A buzzer, working away at the other styling station, makes a deep, grinding noise and then returns to its high-pitched whine. The victim, if he’s still conscious, remains silent. I look into the mirror and drop into a soft, insecure voice.
“So,” I ask, “would you feather me if I asked nicely?”
The stylist stops snipping and puts a hand on her hip, feigning affront.
She smiles and says, “Only if you grew a moustache and bought some tinted brown shades.”
I smile into the mirror, chastising myself for initially judging this book by its cover. This place could be fun. It might just be the start of a beautifully innocent relationship.